Note: This story was written by Bills 101's Richard Wade
The Buffalo Bills and The New Orleans Saints will meet today (1 p.m., CBS) in the midst of their journeys in opposite directions. The Bills, sporting a 3-4 record, are just outside the race for a playoff spot, a place they haven’t been in 13 seasons. The Saints, at 5-1, are back on top of their division after a disastrous 2012 season marred by the "Bountygate" scandal, which saw coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire season.
The Bills are struggling to find an identity. Their 2013 first-round pick and new franchise quarterback EJ Manuel is out with a lateral collateral ligament sprain in his right knee. Insert practice squad signal caller Thad Lewis, who was pressed into the starting role after backup QB Jeff Tuel performed poorly in Manuel’s absence. Scoring has been difficult for the Bills this season, averaging only 22.7 points per game, good for 16th in the NFL. Much of that can be attributed to the spotty quarterback play and the nagging injuries of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
The defense has been just as frustrating as last season. Mario Williams is masking much of the unit’s deficiencies. He is tied for second in the NFL in sacks with 10. The defensive line, with its lofty salaries, ranks 26th overall in total defense. Jairus Byrd, after missing the first five games with a foot injury, has largely gone unnoticed during games. The Bills desperately need his ball-hawk cover skills against Drew Brees. Byrd is playing for a lucrative long-term contract, something he held out for during last offseason.
Injuries once again have hit the team hard, with Spiller doubtful for Sunday’s game with an ankle sprain. The team promoted running back Ronnie Wingo to the 53-man roster to provide depth behind Fred Jackson, who is also nursing knee injury. Wingo has the size (6’3”, 231) to wear down the defense and help Buffalo control time of possession, something they’ve failed to do this season (27:43 average time per game).
The Saints, with Drew Brees at the helm, are sixth in the NFL in scoring at 26.8 points per game. A big improvement over last season has been the play of the Saints defense. After finishing dead last in yards allowed in 2012, they are fourth in the NFL in yards allowed. Much of the credit goes to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
So how can the Bills pull off an upset against the heavily favored Saints? The Bills would be well advised to run the ball. They average 140.4 ypg, good for fourth in the NFL, while the Saints give up 114 ypg on average. The Bills are banged up at running back, so the Saints will see a heavy dose of Tashard Choice and Wingo on Sunday afternoon. Lewis will also have to make a few plays, or the Bills will have a rough time down in New Orleans.
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